From “Cruella” to “Barb and Star”, the best movies of the year … so far


We are halfway through a year in turn that started in quarantine and is just starting to return to normal.

It will be some time before Hollywood makes a full recovery, and this weekend’s earnings for “F9” should give us an indication of the future of the box office. Small films and indies always have a tougher path and will likely continue to air on streaming services rather than relying on theatrical release models.

But this is the business, what about the films themselves? As we hit the middle of 2021, it’s a good time to take stock of the best films of the year to date.

Here are 10 first half movies that are well worth your time.

“The Sparks Brothers” – Now in theaters, Edgar Wright’s Weird, Wild and Wonderful documentary tells the story of the band Sparks, who have been making music since the early ’70s and influenced too many bands to name them. Yet they continue to exist in their own world and are hidden from the general public, and the film is so baffling that it sometimes plays like a mock documentary. How could they have done as much while flying completely under the radar? This is what is so amazing about this tale. It is almost too good to be true.

Russell Mael and Ron Mael in "The Sparks brothers."

“Barb and Star go to Vista Del Mar” – Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo wrote and starred in this insane comedy, which is like a riff on a riff of an inner joke, which continues because the two people telling it keep laughing. These things generally go one of two ways: the insularity becomes unbearable, or the comedic fumes become intoxicating. This one, fortunately, follows the last path. It is a cult film that is only waiting for its cult to discover it.

Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo in "Barb and Star go to Vista Del Mar."

“I carry you with me” – Farmington Hills writer and director Heidi Ewing does something really special with this immigrant love story, about an aspiring chef (Armando Espitia) and a teacher (Christian Vázquez) coming in New York without papers. As such, they cannot return home to Mexico, or they may not be allowed to return. It’s a narrative film with a real-life documentary twist that’s packed with an emotional punch. (In theaters July 2.)

Armando Espitia in "I carry you with me."

“CODA” – I slipped this one because I saw it in the first semester, even if it has to come out in the second. This year’s Sundance Festival wellness hit features a breakout performance by Emilia Jones, who plays the child of deaf adults (that’s where the title CODA comes from) who dreams of going in school to pursue a career in music. Heartwarming and confidently said, “CODA” is top notch fun for audiences who nonetheless skip theaters and will air on Apple TV + starting August 13.

Emilia Jones in "CODA."

“In the heights” – Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical is a big, bright, and brilliant celebration of the life and lifeblood of New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood, featuring massive choreographed sets from director Jon M. Chu (“Crazy Rich Asians “) and a charismatic performance by Anthony Ramos in the lead. So why isn’t he connecting with the audience as expected? It’s up to the box office gods to decipher it, but don’t let it stop you from enjoying one of the funniest and most upbeat movies of the year. (Now in theaters.)

Anthony Ramos and Melissa Barrera in "In the heights."

“Cruel” – Director Craig Gillespie really dared, creating a rock and roll origin story for the evil queen of “101 Dalmatians” Cruella De Vil (Emma Stone, taking a huge bite out of the role) and turning it into a beautiful dark fantasy and twisted. When was the last time you saw a Disney movie that incorporated a full portrayal of the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog”? “Cruella” goes there, and it is successful. (Now in theaters and on Disney + Premium Access.)

Emma Stone in "Cruel."

“The water man” – An honest children’s adventure about a child (Lonnie Chavis) who goes into the woods in search of a mysterious character who he believes can help cure his mother (Rosario Dawson) of her cancer diagnosis. Director David Oyelowo pays homage to Spielberg by simply asking his characters to stand up and do something, rather than playing on their phones or devices. It’s a reminder that there is a big world out there, which gets even bigger when you add the power of the imagination. (Available on demand.)

Lonnie Chavis and Amiah Miller in "The water man."

“The Mitchells against the Machines” – The Netflix animated film is a hit that anyone with children is already familiar with. The film centers on a family from Kentwood, Michigan who survives a robot revolution and is tasked with saving the world, if they can get along first, that is. It’s smart, funny, and action-packed, and a reminder that you don’t need superpowers to save the world.

Danny McBride and Abbi Jacobson play the characters of "The Mitchells against the Machines."

“Billie Eilish: The world is a bit hazy” – The teenage superstar is everywhere, and this insightful documentary on Apple TV + offers a glimpse into why. Following her as her fame really flares up, “The World’s a Little Blurry” shows the bond she has with her fans, the relationship she has with her family (she still lives in the Los Angeles home where she grew up) and the motivation that allowed him to take the world by storm. Worth a visit even if you are not a fan.

Finneas (left) and Billie Eilish in "Billie Eilish: The world is a bit hazy."

“17 blocks” – The breathtaking Davy Rothbart documentary examines the life of a Washington, DC family spanning two decades, and the tragedies and triumphs they endure. It’s an intimate story told from within, and takes an unfailing look at the realities of downtown life. It’s happening in DC, but it could be anywhere, as Rothbart’s storytelling is universal in his humanity. (Available from https://www.17blocksfilm.com/watch.)

Emmanuel Durant in "17 blocks."

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